“…a million wonderful moments happen every day…”

Michael Coyne – People Photography. Lonely Planet 2005.

A quote from a photography book with a travel bent seemed a suitable place to start my learning journey. I’m doing a Foundations in Photography course with the Open College of the Arts. Hello and welcome.

** Please note that this blog is now closed following completion of FiP. If you want to see more of my work please click the link in the menu bar to visit my Express Your Vision blog. Thank you. **

Admissions Advice feedback

I decided to take part in the Admissions Advice pilot, partly to gain the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes on my work, and partly to get a dry run at the processes and materials needed for the submission process in the degree. It did mean that I couldn’t sign up for EYV straight away, but I used the time for reading and training, and plenty of new ideas have appeared without the pressure of any coursework.

Please find below text cut and pasted from the PDF that I received today (entire PDF not included due to personal data in there).  It’s always good to get positive feedback, and I also appreciate the pointers on how to improve further. So everything moves on now, I can sign up to EYV and start trying out some of those seedling ideas. Thanks everyone for reading, and all the best with your studies. I shall now be posting at www.kateastoneyv.wordpress.com, please feel free to continue to follow my blog there.

Feedback for the Student:    Your submission for advice demonstrates how you have taken ownership of the  course and pushed it beyond what is asked of a student, showing great ambition  and drive to develop your personal photographic practice. Not only do you show a  firm grasp of the technical demands of photography such as composition, lighting  and post production, you have begun to consider how your images should be seen  by others to further enhance your ideas and messages. You’re proactive in  engaging with the various student fora and have clearly made excellent use of your  tutor’s support. Keep up this enthusiasm to connect and learn, it will serve you well  in your future endeavours, both academically and professionally.

  Considering the criteria that we set for this advice process, you’re demonstrating  very competent technical and visual skills, which are allowing for the realisation of  your ideas. Your work is presented well and shows a consistency in personal  judgement. Looking through the work, there is evidence of creativity and risk  taking, which is leading to the emergence of a personal voice within your  photography. There is also confidence in your reflective writing, you’re very  articulate and self aware, and the range of research you undertake demonstrates a  developing intellectual understanding.

  As I have already said, your personal voice is emerging within your work, and it is  stated in the review criteria that a student’s work on the foundations course should  focus on acquiring basic skills and working habits ahead of this. However your  openness and willingness to experiment, keen eye for details in the use of models,  props, settings etc. has allowed you to not only deal with sensitive and personal  themes, but also successfully create narratives within your work. 
Overall I think you have made some excellent work on the foundations course and  you should be able to progress onto the degree level courses with a strong  foundation on which to build and further develop as an independent learner and  photographer.   

There are a few things that I’d like to highlight here for your consideration before  moving onto the degree programme:   

● Titles/Names/Words/Phrases  ­ Be careful of relying on words and titles to  explain an image, you should be able to let a photograph or a series tell the  story for you. Of course some images need context but try to find ways of  being subtle and leave the images/series to speak for themselves/itself  (seen in the photo series for Assignment 5).   

● Obviousness or Subtlety  ­ This point relates in part to the previous, it  would be good to see you take greater discernment between what may be  cliche/obvious, and striving to put the same message across more subtly.   

● Post­production  ­ Don’t rely too heavily on the editing software in the  postproduction of your photo taking. There is often danger of an  unintentional smoke and mirrors effect from the over processing of images.  Try to capture a lot of what you’re after in the lens (seen in the A3 prints for  Assignment 2 and the photo series for Assignment 5).   

Your organisation of the physical and digital submissions of your work from the  course has been executed professionally. Everything has been well labelled,  packed and organised, your directions to the relevant areas of the blog, use of the  GDrive folders, and carefully packed physical work have all contributed to a  successful admissions advice submission. Bear this experience in mind if you  decide to progress onto the degree as you’ll need to perform similar tasks when  submitting for formal assessment.    Keep up the good work Kate and all the best with your next learning/artistic  endeavour. 

Is the student ready to progress to  undergraduate study?  Yes 

Name:  Eddie Smith, Course Support Adviser  Date:  29­06­2016 

That’s nearly all folks…

Huge “Thank you”s to everyone who has read, followed and commented on my Foundations blog either here or via Facebook. To everyone who has modelled, and allowed me to share your stories – thank you hugely too. You all help to make distance learning feel a little less distant and I appreciate it. As I write this I am looking at my list of the tasks remaining before I can put two packages in the post to OCA HQ for admittance advice. It looks like a lot of work but I should have it all done by the end of the week.

In anticipation of the admittance advice being successful, and me booking a place on the first module of the degree course (Express Your Vision), I’ve set up a new blog at www.kateastoneyv.wordpress.com, please feel free to pop over and follow, I’d love to have you with me.  Course content should follow in 4-6 weeks, in the meantime I’ll be logging my reading over there. There’s not much more going to happen here, possibly a follow-up on the admittance advice but that I think will be it. I’m still in denial about the Foundations course being over…


Final reflections

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

My technical skills are far ahead of what I started out with. I soon felt comfortable shooting in manual. The low light work was an absolute eye-opener.  Assignment 2 saw me making long exposures with a tripod, remote release, low ISO and narrow aperture – completely opposite to how I would have worked in the dark before the course. White balance was a great one to learn and important for Assignment 4. I struggled with confidence in Photoshop, but the exercises and feedback built my confidence and allowed me to rework Assignment 1 to something that I am much happier with. Visually, I think light and space have been triumphs – I learned to respect and handle the constant changes in light, and to see space as an entity  in its own right. I’ve enjoyed choosing appropriate formats for each assignment, from online grids to postcards to albums, and have extended the range to miniatures and A2 prints for rework.

Quality of Outcome

Did my work do what I wanted it to do? On the whole, yes. I’m happy that my assignments have been carefully executed, from determining subject and scope, to research, deciding the images that I want and finding the best way to shoot them, to taking the photographs that I want (over and over if necessary) and presenting them in a way that complements, adds credence to, and helps to deliver, their stories. I’m not afraid to loosen control and see where that takes me, or to change direction if needed. Context is something to think about – my tutor explained the difference between in-picture context and out-of-picture context. I have enjoyed the exercises, and tried to give them as much creativity and care as possible. This resulted in several pieces of  work that I would love to extend further. The staged photograph in assignment 3 is I think my weakest image but even so it still speaks.

“Even though the technique was given to you (painting with light), you have managed to transcend it and make it very much your own, creating images that use the blurring of longexposures to simulate the calotype as well as blur boundaries between the sexes.” (Tutor feedback A.2)


I’ve been thrilled with how my creativity has bloomed. I’ve enjoyed working with people and exploring themes that are relevant to many of us. I’ve learned to think creatively about the entire process from concept to rework. I’ve learned to cultivate creativity through research, curiousity, and fearlessness. I like to work with the shared experiences  and with the “what ifs? ” of life.  This approach, tending towards the conceptual, has been supported and nurtured by my tutor. I’ve learned that for me, making the image is only the beginning of the creative process, not the end. There’s so much more that can be done, so much to explore, so much to borrow from.

“… the main thing is to do it in your own way – you’ve found a ‘voice’ and you should try to develop that further.” (Tutor feedback A.3)

Context and reflection

I have felt increasingly surefooted here. I am a confident blogger and appreciate the resource that my blog provides for storing, organising, accessing and sharing my work as well as the value of other OCA student blogs. Equally, I’m confident that my blog is a good representation of my work and my process. My paper logs have evolved – one for notes and planning, and another that’s more of a scrapbook for inspiration, study visit notes and samples. Assignment 2 showed me the amazing contribution that careful research can make to planning, creating and delivering my work, and that changed everything. Internet, libraries, magazines, museums, personal networking, galleries and exhibitions (regardless of creative discipline). Tutor feedback has guided me (Sophie Calle and Edward Steichen were pivotal references) and I have a much clearer idea of my fledgling voice. I  use the OCA resources for research and those of national and international gallery websites. I am active on the OCA fora and the Level 1 Facebook group and attend as many study visits as I can. Much of my coursework has depended on legwork and conversation – school gate, Facebook, making contacts and countless approaches by email/message/conversation.

My work

“You have so much high quality coursework up there.  But what really impresses me most is the range of feeling in your work, from the humorous  ‘Sunnies’ and the story of ‘Cuthbert’ to more poignant images of braille and this assignment.  There’s a lot of human emotion here, the good and the sad, and it all comes across with authenticity.” (Tutor feedback A3).

I love exploring families, life and history through images, and I have enjoyed using social media both as a research tool and as a subject in its own right (see Ex4.11 Emulation “katebook”). I found that the simple Exercise 3.7 A significant object, with mother and baby shoes, both suggested and demanded that I explore miscarriage for Assignment 3.  I have also enjoyed developing the physicality of my images, from the unexpected 3d-ness of Ex 2.5 Composite Portrait through to the cutting and collage of Ex 4.1 Fragments, the joy of Ex 5.5 Flowers and the rework of Assignment 2 at large and tiny scales. I now quite like working with Photoshop and accept that even though my style veers towards the ham-fisted, it remains my style, and will evolve further over time.

In summary

“You’ve made amazing progress on this course and produced some truly memorable works.” (Tutor feedback A.5)

I hope this blog post, my work and my tutor feedback PDFs speak clearly of my journey so far. I have certainly tried to make the most of this opportunity and am indebted to my tutor and OCA staff and community for the support I’ve received. I am certainly inspired to continue. I would like to:

  • build technical skills and be more disciplined
  • build artistic polish
  • be more competent with delivering in-picture context
  • learn more about copyright and how to make the best decisions about incorporating public domain/found/shared images in my work
  • learn more about art
  • start referencing properly
  • name my digital files more elegantly

(1015 words)

Reflections on Part 5 Exhibition:Concept

I honestly thought that Part 5 wouldn’t take that long… Much of it is involved with setting up and maintaining a blog, which I already had in place. Nominally, other than the blog work, this part contains two exercises and an assignment.

However, the exercises are wonderfully meaty. I absolutely loved Exercise 5.5 What is a flower? and in particular the chance it provided to take my work into three dimensions. I worked with a die-cutting machine, florist wire and a block of Oasis to make an actual flower arrangement from my prints of flowers. I do not have the words for how satisfying it was to watch my flowers quiver in the slightest of breezes. Exercise 5.6 Photography re-made was one that I did not fancy starting, with the need to acquire model(s) and replicate a place on the other side of the world with a nod to props and costume. I reluctantly decided to model for myself and to revisit (photographically at least) a trip I made to Tahiti in my late 20s. It was actually not so bad, and the best thing was receiving a comment from Lottie who had a school-friend from the Solomon Islands and remarked that my image reminded her of this friend’s photographs of her home. I’ll take that 🙂 I’m definitely neither my most photogenic nor my most collaborative model, but the organisational logistics were much simpler, plus it felt very authentic as I was remaking a photograph of myself.

The assignment was hard. It took several trial runs before I settled on a concept, and at the eleventh hour that concept was put aside in favour of the constructed images which were a tiny subset of my original . I didn’t make things easy with my choice of location – Imber is a  live firing range that only opens to the public for a few days a year and access is neither safe nor permitted outside of these days. That said, there are so many stories to tell, so many questions to ask, that it felt worthwhile to cope with the inconvenience. I also learned a lot about found images, public domain images, and my limits on using them. There’s a lot more to learn here but I am happy to have made a start. I am also happy with my Plan B set – the original Plan A – which turned out well and will live on as  personal project. Actually putting an end to Assignment 5 was far harder than I had imagined. I didn’t get to do the rework I wanted, as one key image could not be found in the Museum archive. It’s hard to draw a line sometimes and say that even though more could be done, now is an ok place to stop. The rework that I’ve done on other assignments for the Admittance Advice Pilot made me realise how differently you can feel about a piece of work that you’ve had the chance to improve and I think that can be almost addictive.

It’s also a very strange feeling to be finishing this course. I don’t know, to be honest, if I will enjoy EYV as much as I have enjoyed FiP. I have so many fledgling skills under my belt now that I worry that the early stages of EYV may feel a little pedestrian, the opportunities for creativity a little constrained. FiP has covered many of the basics that form part of EYV, such as basic camera skills, research skills, writing and presentation, reading, blogging… All I can do really is go into it with an open mind and trust that my reservations are misplaced and that my Foundation year will stand me in good stead. It is odd thinking that I shall be doing the Square Mile project again, after doing it once a year ago and reworking it a few weeks back. That said, it will be a different square mile this time.

Assignment 5 – Rework

Apologies – some of my introductory text is the same as in the A5 feedback blog post. My tutor feedback from Robert Enoch is in a pdf which can be accessed here.  Assignment 5 is primarily a physical piece of work but you can view some of the images and read my text and process by clicking on the links.

I was delighted with the feedback. This had felt like quite a risky piece of work right the way through but it was the work I wanted to make and I was thrilled that for the most part it communicated my intentions well and provoked thought and curiosity. It is very satisfying that my eleventh hour change of direction after peer review paid off.

Robert felt that the images with people worked the best – the ones with the layered public domain images of soldiers. He liked the American Road one least, feeling that it didn’t fit with the serious mood of the rest of the series. His words ” Be aware of the mood of your most essential pictures and don’t ‘break’ that mood accidentally with the wrong photo.” will definitely help me going forward. It made me remember that it’s not just about producing a technically competent image but about one that gives a message consistent with the other images on the set. On images without people, such as those as the chapel and church, he provided useful comments and I will certainly be looking to improve both images. If I can’t improve the chapel one I’m confident about removing it, along with American Road. I have finally secured an appointment at the newly re-opened Wiltshire Museum Library to view their photographic archive of Imber which I hope will also provide some ideas for further improving this series. Considering the number of US troops that would have passed through Imber for training (many thousands) it has proved surprisingly difficult to find any images that identify both troop and location. Thus I shall widen the search to images of Imber residents from the 30s/40s, as Robert suggested in his feedback.

Onto the meat – what will I change, and why?

I have an appointment at the Wiltshire Museum on 7th June to view some photographs from their Imber archive, including one of the last couple to be married at St Giles Church, in November 1943. Obviously there’s a big gap between being able to view the image and being able to include it in a composite image, but it’s worth a try. There may well be other images that could be included with the rear view of the pub, to give more of a human touch. Either image would work within the set. I think the chapel image may need to go as I don’t have a suitable image to layer with it, again unless one presents itself from the archive. The American Road image will be removed from the set. Access to the Museum archive wasn’t possible earlier in the assignment as it had been closed for maintenance work for five months. In retrospect, earlier access would have made a significant difference.

There are some issues with the actual album – I used my spare for Plan B, and the vendor has gone out of stock so I shall need to remake the existing one. This should be doable, with care. However it’s not holding up well physically – not too much of an issue given the vintage nature of the images – but it won’t survive too many more round trips.

Well, the best laid plans…. the Wiltshire Museum produced some stunning images of Imber and its people but sadly they could not find the wedding photograph that I wanted to layer with my image of the church at Imber. I was able to photograph some items that I thought might work. Back at my PC, I didn’t find anything that worked within the contexts of my existing images and reluctantly decided that the solution here was to remove the chapel image from the set. Superimposing unknown people onto a pub or chapel would feel a little like playing fast and loose with their unknown principles, so I’ve reluctantly chosen against putting soldiers or locals into those contexts and decided that the best immediate option is to remove the American Road and Chapel images from the set. The pub image will stay as I think I can improve it. The church image will stay; in the same way that the church itself has anchored the village through history, incongruous as it now may be. The other images will remain but in a different order. I take Robert’s point about the pub image working “surprisingly well for an object plastered onto a photo!” My Photoshop skills are a work in progress. That said, I didn’t want the Photoshopping here to look perfect, the idea of the work is that it’s putting together different times. It is close to impossible to identify that building as a pub any more (a Belgian soldier allegedly took the pub sign as a battle trophy), but I thought the bottle opener from the pub’s brewery identified the building, as well as showing the poignant wording on the bottle opener. I intend to photoshop in some children playing at the pub window, from an image I took at the same time but with a narrower composition.

It’s honestly not “finished”, but is a project that I will return to when the Army re-open Imber this summer. To get the work to “wonderful” as my tutor temptingly suggests that it could be, is not something that I can get to right now with the resources and images that I have. This isn’t really surprising given that the shots were taken with a different brief in mind, I ended up working with the tiniest corner of my original mindmap, one which I never imagined would or could generate and support a whole assignment. I think I’ve taken it to my (practical) limit for the moment, but who knows where it could go with more shooting and research? I’m looking forward to finding out. I also need to learn more about public domain images and find a way of both creating and sharing composite images that I’m happy with.

Assignment 4 – rework

This assignment was “Responding to a theme”, I choose the theme “Contraband”, inspired by Taryn Simon’s work of the same name. I wanted to look at normal, permitted objects that any of us might carry on a journey or on a trip away from home. I was very happy with both the work and the feedback and there was not very much to change.

My tutor pointed out that my image was short on in-picture context, and that although it was not a big problem for this work it was something to watch out for in the future. I was inspired by Taryn Simon’s series ‘Contraband@ which was photographed using a stainless steel table-top in an airport room. I didn’t have access to an airport, but I did have access to a stainless steel table-top and am kicking myself for not thinking to bring it downstairs to the good light. I understand the need for in-picture context much more now.

I have added a couple of lines to the very start of my assignment to give immediate context. Where possible I have also added the first name of each contributor within the picture caption, to help convey that the series is based on the security experiences of several people.